Deborah Levy on the phantom of femininity

In this interview with Five Dials, Deborah Levy, discusses The Cost of Living, the next instalment in her trilogy of 'living autobiographies'

Deborah Levy

It is what we invest in our ancient and modern monsters – and how they speak back to us – that gives them their potency

Literature is a lens through which we come to understand ourselves – and the right sentence can break something open in its reader. Your own work is full of sentences that do that. Which books have done that for you? Which would you pass on to the next generation?

Thank you. All the same, I’d prefer the next generation to pass books on to me.

Finally, is there such thing as ‘female’ writing?

I don’t know about that. I mean, I really don’t. On this matter, here is a quote from The Cost of Living:

"Serenity is supposed to be one of the main characters in old-fashioned femininity’s cultural personality. She is serene and she endures. Yes, she is so talented at enduring and suffering they might even be the main characters in her story. There were not that many women I knew who wanted to put the phantom of femininity together again. What is a phantom anyway? The phantom of femininity is an illusion, a delusion, a societal hallucination. She is a very tricky character to play and it is a role (sacrifice, endurance, cheerful suffering) that has made some women go mad. This was not a story I wanted to hear all over again. It was time to find new main characters with other talents."

This interview originally appeared in issue 44 of Five Dials, a free literary journal from Hamish Hamilton.

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